Thursday 27 April 2017

Beyond Those Mountains

The one thing that can be said about this week, and it's the same nationwide, is that it has been bl**dy cold! I have been doing bird surveys beyond those mountains in the middle of Cumbria and with 4:00 am alarm calls the the thermometer has been showing a negative figure! After I had finished a survey in north Cumbria yesterday I had to see a couple of clients in Bowland and driving over the top from Bentham to Slaidburn it was like driving through the tundra! I should have stopped and taken a few shots of the snowy landscape but I couldn't spare the horses to make sure I was at my meetings on time!

 Looking back towards those mountains.

The cold spring has been having an impact on migration, and still there are only dribs and drabs of summer migrants coming through. Also, when it is weather like this birds just seem to appear quietly on the breeding grounds, and the two surveys I have completed this week are a case in point. Some of the species I have recorded are summer migrants and they have been my first sightings of the spring, completely bypassing coastal hot spots, and appearing at historic nest sites.

My surveys have been in new-ish plantation woodland and I have lumped the interesting sightings together for both sites as follows; four Willow Warblers, two Tree Sparrows, three Reed Buntings, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Stock Dove, seven Lesser Redpolls, two Redstarts, a Blackcap and a Song Thrush.

 Plantation Woodland

It's going to be wet in Cumbria tomorrow morning so I haven't got a 4:00 am alarm call so I might just have a beer or two this evening!

Sunday 23 April 2017

Full Spooner

I headed to the Point first thing this morning and joined Ian and Howard, and boy was it cold! The skies were clear and the wind was a sharp 15 mph northwesterly! It was a toss up between standing on the bank and in the wind, but with the sun on your back, or standing behind the tower out of the wind, but with no sun; I opted for the windier but sunnier option.

There was some vis this morning and the direction of passage was anywhere between north and east. My vis totals were 25 Goldfinches, 165 Pink-footed Geese, 248 Meadow Pipits, nine Swallows, 19 Linnets, two Sand Martins, four Carrion Crows, eleven Lesser Redpolls, four Siskins, three Tree Pipits, two Alba Wagtails, a Rook and amazingly a Blue Tit that came high over the dunes and was lost from sight as it headed out to cross Morecambe Bay!

The best bird offshore was undoubtedly the 'full spooner' adult pale morph Pomarine Skua that I picked up heading in to the bay. As it progressed east it was gaining height and I don't doubt that it was going to 'over land' to the North sea!

In addition to the Pom the sea produced 16 Red-throated Divers, a Peregrine, eight Sandwich Terns, 67 Auk sp., five Gannets, three Shelducks, four Razorbills, ten Manx Shearwaters, 20 Common Scoters, 20 Whimbrels, ten Arctic Terns, nine Eiders and a Guillemot.

Two hundred Dunlins and 99 Ringed Plovers attempted to roost on the shingle at high tide but were continually disturbed. The only grounded migrants we had were five Wheatears.

Back home all my moth trap produced was a single Common Quaker, which wasn't surprising given the low overnight temperatures. Talking of back home I need to rewind to late yesterday morning when I heard all the Gulls at the rear of my house alarm calling and generally going berserk! I thought I was going to record my first Osprey over the house, but it was two migrant Buzzards making their way north!

Friday 21 April 2017

A Hoodie and a GNOD

The weather has been a bit mixed this week, or perhaps more to the point I haven't been able to get a forecast I could rely upon for my breeding bird surveys in north Cumbria, so there hasn't been any more birding north of the border for me this week sadly!

This morning I headed to the Point for a bit of sea watching and 'vis mig' at the Obs. I had full cloud cover with a 10 - 15 mph west-northwesterly wind. It was just about warm enough, or not too cold, to stand on top of the dunes to count vis and look at the sea. The vis was really quiet with blocking low cloud to the south and to a certain extent out in the bay. Nevertheless I did record a bit of vis in the form of a Meadow Pipit, nine Swallows, six Linnets, 19 Goldfinches, a Kestrel that headed due north across the bay until out of sight and a Lesser Redpoll.

The sea was relatively quiet, although I did have a Great Northern Diver heading east in to the bay, but sadly at some distance. It was virtually my last scan of the sea before heading back to my car when I picked it up flying in to the bay and slightly away from me; always good to see though! The GNOD supporting cast included five Red-throated Divers, 103 Common Scoters, 16 Gannets, 20 Eiders, a Guillemot, two Cormorants, a Kittiwake and seven Sandwich Terns. An Atlantic Grey Seal was also bobbing up and down just offshore.

Just as good as the Great Northern was a Hooded Crow that I have to thank AB and JS for putting me on to. I was just heading off to have a look at the waders on the beach when AB and JS shouted me to say there was a Hooded Crow on one of the fairways on the golf course. I popped back up on top of the bank and sure enough there it was strutting it's stuff! It was quite a distance away and kept getting flushed by golfers.

Roosting waders comprised of 76 Sanderlings, nine Dunlins and 53 Turnstones. The only other sighting of interest was a cracking male Sparrowhawk that flew low over the dunes as I headed back to my car.

We've got the mighty Joe Bonomassa tomorrow night, so I'm looking forward to that, and I'm determined to get out ringing Sunday morning even though it will be a late night. But tomorrow will be more vis miging and sea watching at the Obs!

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Both Sides Of the Solway

Yesterday morning I did get up before first light with the intention of ringing at the Obs as I said in my previous blog posting, but it was raining! I waited and waited, and it didn't stop. I drifted off to sleep and awakened again at 7:00 am and still it rained; so I tried!

It was an even earlier start this morning, but for some reason I had a spring in my step when the alarm went off at 0345! Maybe it was because I was heading to the Solway! I had a bird survey to do for work in north Cumbria overlooking the Solway and afterwards it was my intention to spend a few hours birding the Scottish side. As I headed over Faulds Brow the thermometer on my car read a chilly minus 4! However, as I dropped down to my survey site thankfully the temperature lifted, but it was still hat and gloves weather this early in the day!

I was surveying some newly planted woodland on improved pasture and therefore the species range was limited. Of interest I had seven Goldfinches, two Song Thrushes, a Jay, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Stock Dove, two Chaffinches, two Greenfinches, three House Sparrows, a Blackcap, a Buzzard, a Siskin, three Lesser Redpolls, two Tree Sparrows and two Linnets.

After I had finished my survey I crossed over to the Scottish side of the Solway and had a walk from Browhouses to Torduff Point. A little bit of cloud had rolled in by now, but it was still a glorious morning and it had warmed up.

 Coastal Scrub

As soon as I got out of my car I could hear Blackcap and Willow Warbler singing, and in total I had two Blackcaps and eleven Willow Warblers. I love Willow Warbler song and it certainly raises the spirits.

 Willow Warbler

I had a look on the mudflats and river. On the river were five Goldeneyes, 21 Wigeon and a male Goosander. A selection of waders were on the mudflats including 20 Whimbrels, 29 Redshanks and eleven Black-tailed Godwits. In addition to the waders two Little Egrets were also feeding on the mudflats.  

I then headed west towards Torduff Point walking through the mature hedgerow and scrub. I had two Lesser Redpolls and a Siskin head east, but I also had six Lesser Redpolls feeding in the tops of the trees amongst the scrub. Three Reed Buntings, two singing Chiffchaffs, a Linnet, four Song Thrushes, two Chaffinches and twelve Goldfinches were also recorded in the coastal scrub.

The only raptor I had was a single Buzzard that was hunting over the adjacent grassland. Also on that side in the grassland habitat was two Stonechats and a buck Roe Deer that hadn't seen me, well for a while anyway. I took some pictures of him, but sadly they aren't as good as they should have been as I was 'shooting' through a chain link fence!

 Roe Deer


As the sun warmed the morning air a few butterflies were on the wing including two Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock. I've got another survey in this neck of the woods again tomorrow, and depending on the weather I might just cross the border again for some more Scottish birding! 

  Small Tortoiseshell

Sunday 16 April 2017

March Ringing Totals

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of March. As you will know we were unable to carry out any ringing within 10 km of a recent avian influenza outbreak and this suspension has only recently been lifted, so we are just getting back in to our stride. This means that our ringing totals so far this year are 319 behind where we were last year; hopefully we can catch up!

In March twelve new species were added to the list of species ringed so far in 2017 and these were Meadow Pipit, Dunnock, Blackbird, Blackcap, Goldcrest, Coal Tit, House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Bullfinch and Reed Bunting.

Below you will find the top three ringed during March and the top seven 'movers and shakers' for the year:

Top 3 Ringed in March

1. Goldfinch - 27
2. Meadow Pipit - 14
    Siskin - 14

Top 7 Movers and Shakers

1. Linnet - 59 (same position)
2. Goldfinch - 36 (straight in)
3. Lesser Redpoll - 24 (straight in)
4. Blue Tit - 18 (down from 2nd)
    Siskin - 18 (straight in)
6. Meadow Pipit - 14 (straight in)
    Chaffinch - 14 (straight in)

At the moment the forecast is looking okay to do some ringing at the Obs tomorrow with 5 mph ESE wind forecast, so fingers crossed!

Saturday 15 April 2017

Cold Northwesterly

I set off at first light with my fold-up chair in hand to a spot where it is possible to sea watch at the Obs even at low tide. I hunkered down in a sheltered spot and prepared myself to not see a great deal in the cold northwesterly! The skies were clear so it gave the impression of being a nice day.

Amazingly there was some vis, mainly I think because birds have been held up. Some birds went east, others northeast and even some went north straight across the bay. Visibility was good so even those taking the direct northerly route would have no difficulty in keeping the first land fall of Walney Island, some 17 km away, in their sight. My vis totals were 73 Meadow Pipits, 73 Linnets, five Carrion Crows, an Alba Wag, five Swallows, 50 Goldfinches and a Lesser Redpoll.

The sea was pretty quiet too, but then it was a northwesterly wind. I am expecting the first Arctic Skuas anytime soon, but it wasn't going to be today, but I did have my first Whimbrels of the Spring with three birds heading rapidly east in to the bay. The supporting cast offshore included two Whooper Swans, ten Cormorants, two Red-throated Divers, 12 Common Scoters, eight Eiders, ten Gannets, an Auk sp. and a Sandwich Tern.

The only grounded migrants were three White Wagtails on the beach. The forecast is grim for tomorrow, so a few pints of real ale and a rare lie in are in order. The wind is dropping off on Monday, so I'm hoping to get some mist nets up at the Obs. 

Friday 14 April 2017

Not This Morning

It was forecast for some light rain round about first light this morning, so I thought I would check a few coastal hot spots at the Obs for some grounded migrants. But it wasn't to be this morning! The rain had obviously had a blocking effect preventing any migrants getting through from the south.

It was actually quite depressing after checking two good coastal sites and drawing a blank! It wasn't until I walked the dunes that I recorded a soggy male Wheatear! There was a little bit of vis, mainly in the form of Meadow Pipits, and they were setting off across the bay in a northwesterly direction. Some of them were turning round and coming back, and others were continuing on as Walney Island was just visible. I had 43 Meadow Pipits and two Swallows that headed west.

It's going to be a better day tomorrow weather-wise, but still northwesterly. My aim is to get out at first light and have a look on the sea. I'll let you know how I get on!

Close To Home

It made a change to be doing a bird survey close to home yesterday morning and my alarm call was still early, but not ridiculously early as it often is! It was still very cold and for me at least this has made the Spring very slow so far. I had 7 oktas cloud cover with a 10 - 15 mph northwesterly wind.

I am surveying an area of farmland with associated hedges and ponds. It's not an area that I have ever birded in the past, and it's always interesting to go somewhere new. Talking of the slow Spring, there were a few migrants around during the four hours I was on site, but they were thin on the ground. Highlights included five Lapwings, four Reed Buntings, three Buzzards, two Willow Warblers, three Chiffchaffs and a Stock Dove. This isn't my complete list of course, but just a few bits and pieces that were moderately interesting.

We're on day one of a four day weekend and the weather doesn't look amazing for birding over the four days, and even less so for any ringing!

Monday 10 April 2017

Velvet Morning

I was at the Obs for first light again yesterday morning and perched on top of the dunes it was still cold until the sun was high in the sky. I had clear skies with a 10 mph southeasterly wind.

There was a good selection of vis and I had my first Tree Pipits of the Spring. My vis totals (all northeast) were four Tree Pipits, 46 Lesser Redpolls, 49 Linnets, seven Goldfinches, 91 Meadow Pipits, a Chaffinch, 24 Carrion Crows, a Wheatear, five Alba Wags, a Sand Martin, a Siskin, two Swallows, a Tree Sparrow, a Grey Wagtail and a Reed Bunting.

This morning was just the same as the past few mornings in terms of my levels of frustration because of the high flying vis, particularly the Redpolls. Once again they were so high that I couldn't see them, only hear them!

As the tide pushed in there was a few waders on the beach including 79 Ringed Plovers, 42 Sanderlings and 31 Dunlins. There was a steady passage of Knot west, and I presume these birds are heading to the Ribble Estuary to roost; in total I had 460.

The sea was fairly quiet, although I did have my first couple of Sandwich Terns head in to the bay. Other totals included 23 Eiders, eight Cormorants, a Red-throated Diver and eight Common Scoters. Mid-morning I picked up what I thought was a group of five Eiders heading southwest across the bay. I say 'thought' as they were a long way off, but the two males stood out even at that distance. A few minutes later I picked them up again and I could see that it wasn't five Eiders, but three Eiders and a pair of Velvet Scoters! The Velvets came a little closer and then headed west out of Morecambe Bay and into Liverpool Bay.

As expected given the clear conditions grounded migrants were thin on the ground and all I had were six Wheatears and four White Wagtails

Back home in my moth trap I had six Early Greys, a Light Brown Apple Moth, four Common Quakers, two Plume Moth sp. and a Hebrew Character.

It's looking a mixed bag weather-wise this week and I have nine breeding bird surveys to get in before mid-May, no panic at the moment but I do need the weather to improve to make me feel more comfortable!

Saturday 8 April 2017


At first light at the Obs there was a ground frost and I also had a heavy dew in my beard! The skies were crystal clear and it was flat calm. From the outset it was obvious that Redpolls were on the move, but sadly they were up in the stratosphere. It's difficult recording the vis when conditions are this clear as what you are really recording is just registrations. You hear a bird calling high up, you can't see it, so it is just a registration; it could be a single bird, but it could also be a small flock.

There was a supporting cast to the Redpolls and my totals were 100 Lesser Redpolls, 29 Meadow Pipits, seven Goldfinches, eight Linnets, two Woodpigeons, two Carrion Crows, a Greenfinch, five Alba Wags, two Swallows and three Siskins.

The most surprising observation of the morning was two Red-legged Partridges, that were a new species to be recorded at the Obs for me. In fact shortly after I had seen them I caught one of them in a mist net, but it got out before I got to the net. There is an absolute ban on ringing Red-legged Partridges by the BTO so even if I had managed to extract it, it wouldn't have been ringed.

On the subject of ringing I ringed 26 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Meadow Pipit - 1
Lesser Redpoll - 19
Blue Tit - 4
Dunnock - 1
Wren - 1 (1)

 Lesser Redpoll (above & below)

It wasn't a grounded morning and in fact I had no grounded migrants at all. The only other observation of interest I had was a female Sparrowhawk that slowly headed north. I couldn't decide whether it was a migrant or not, or just the female of a local breeding pair.

When I got home I checked my moth trap and all I had was a single Hebrew Character, mind you it was cold last night.

I'll be out again in the morning recording any migration, but without mist nets as it looks like it will be a tad breezy for the relatively exposed net rides at the Obs.

Friday 7 April 2017

A Quick Scamper

I only had time for a quick scamper around the Obs yesterday morning, so I had a quick look on the sea and a search of a couple of spots for grounded migrants. The weather was 4 oktas cloud cover with a west-northwesterly wind about 10  - 15 mph.

Stood on top of the dunes so I could look over the sea and keep an eye out for any passing migrants there was a little bit of vis going on, and everything was heading northeast. I only watched for about an hour and a quarter, so my totals only included a Siskin, 172 Meadow Pipits, eight Carrion Crows, a Goldfinch, five Linnets, four Alba Wags and a Sparrowhawk.

The sea was equally as quiet, or a combination with me not spending long enough, anyway my totals were 25 Common Scoters, four Red-breasted Mergansers and two Whooper Swans. At first I couldn't get a feel as to whether it was a 'grounded' morning or not, but after a while it was obvious that it wasn't as all I had was a Wheatear and a White Wagtail.

Waders were conspicuous by their absence and roosting at high tide were just 101 Turnstones. The forecast is looking good for the next couple of days as the wind swings round to the south and warm air is forecast to surge northwards from Africa. Hopefully it will open a few migrant floodgates and amazingly it looks like the winds will be light enough to get nets up both days over weekend at the Obs! 

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Wednesday 5 April 2017

In the Footsteps Of The Premonstratensians

A 4:00 am alarm call yesterday morning was a bit tricky, particularly after just three hours sleep! I had my first of a series of breeding bird surveys to complete in Cumbria and I headed to the top of the county not farm from Carlisle. Driving up there it was quite wet and I did wonder whether I was going to have to call the survey off when I got there, but the BBC forecast was spot on and as the sun rose the rain lifted!

I had three small areas of plantation woodland to survey and for the purposes of the blog I have lumped together the more interesting sightings, or least uninteresting depending on how you look at, and recorded two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, eight House Sparrows, thirteen Fieldfares, three Chiffchaffs, a Song Thrush, two Blackcaps, a Linnet, two Buzzards, seven Siskins, four Stock Doves, a Yellowhammer, a Willow Warbler and a Goldcrest.

 There was plenty of evidence of small mammal activity within the newly
planted woodland

The Blackthorn flowering in the hedgerows looked resplendent as did the Primroses in the adjacent woodland and hedge bottoms.



On my way home I called at Shap Abbey to combine my love of natural history with the historic environment, and I always enjoy dropping in to this late 12th century religious house that belonged to the Premonstratensian order of canons. English Heritage look after the abbey with its impressive 15th century tower and other remains. It lies on the coast to coast long distance footpath and is adjacent to the River Lowther, and an area of semi-natural woodland.

 Shap Abbey

The wind had picked up as I set off for my walk around the Abbey, and I expected a few warbler species to be singing from the woodland but all I had were two Goldcrests. The river just held a single Grey Wagtail and Dippers were notable by their absence. A handful of Meadow Pipits and Siskins headed north overhead and that was pretty much everything that I observed of interest.

Fast forward to this morning and on my way to see a client in Bowland I had a Red Kite fly over the road. The bird was heading north and I only saw it for a few seconds, but nevertheless a nice bird to see in Lancashire!  


Monday 3 April 2017

Low Level Vis

Yesterday morning dawned with clear skies and a strongish northwesterly wind. As you will know I have a considerable distaste for northwesterly winds as it usually means few or no birds, but this morning was an exception.

From the off it was clear that birds were urgently on the move as they were powering north in to the strong wind. The strong NW wind forced the birds to fly low as wind speeds would be less closer to the ground. Normally in such clear conditions the birds would be very high. Pipits and finches were moving on quite a broad front and I observed them over the farm fields, the beach and even out at sea when I was looking through my scope.

The following totals are really a minimum as it is difficult to count everything. Anyway, I had 165 Linnets, 161 Goldfinches, a Carrion Crow, three Alba Wags, five Siskins, a Redpoll sp., four Swallows, a Sand Martin, two White Wagtails and 835 Meadow Pipits.

It wasn't a grounded morning so two Wheatears and three Goldcrests were acceptable. The sea was quiet, or maybe I wasn't giving it enough attention because of all the vis action, and all I had was two Gannets, a male Eider and a Red-throated Diver! A female Peregrine heading southwest over the fields was also noteworthy.

I then headed to the water treatment works mainly to take down my feeders from the feeding station but also to see if there were any migrants in there as it is away from the coast and sheltered. All I had was three singing Chiffchaffs, and although not migrant birds it was nice to record my first Speckled Wood butterflies of the year.

 Speckled Wood

My garden moth trap this morning held just eight moths; six Hebrew Characters, a Common Quaker and my first Early Grey of the year. It's north Cumbria for a bird survey tomorrow morning for me with a very early start!